Georgia Tech dean is chosen to replace UC Davis chancellor who resigned under cloud

A Georgia Tech dean who is one of the nation’s most prominent African American engineers and has been lauded for recruiting more minorities into science and technical fields was selected Tuesday to become the next chancellor of UC Davis.  

University of California President Janet Napolitano announced that she had chosen Gary May, a UC Berkeley alumnus who heads Georgia Tech’s College of Engineering, as the seventh chancellor of UC Davis. He would be the 10-campus UC system’s only African American chancellor. 

May would replace Linda Katehi, who resigned last year after a UC investigation into allegations of conflicts of interest found that she violated multiple university policies and misled her superiors, the public and the media.

In a statement, Napolitano praised May as a “dynamic leader and an accomplished scholar and engineer with a passion for helping others succeed.”

The UC Board of Regents will vote on the appointment during a special meeting Thursday at UCLA. If approved, May will take over Aug. 1 from interim Chancellor Ralph Hexter. 

May said he was excited by UC Davis’ commitment to quality education and research, diversity, faculty support and public service. “These values speak to my spirit, and I cannot wait to join the campus community," he said in a statement. 

Ari Kelman, a UC Davis history professor who led the search committee’s faculty subcommittee, said May was both dynamic and humble, with a strong sense of public mission and breadth as both an effective administrator and a dedicated teacher and mentor. The committee vetted more than 500 potential candidates, and May offered the desired qualities of vision and leadership, extraordinary scholarship and integrity, a proven commitment to diversity and an ability to relate to students, faculty and staff, Kelman said.

“It’s a huge get for us,” Kelman said in an interview. “It’s hard to convey what a giant he is.”

Alex T. Lee, UC Davis’ student body president, said he was optimistic that May would work to rebuild trust with students disillusioned by Katehi and to protect those feeling vulnerable under President Trump — particularly immigrants, Muslims and LGBT students.  

May, 52, a native of St. Louis, has been at Georgia Tech for nearly three decades. As the engineering college’s chief academic officer, he leads more than 400 faculty members and 13,000 students. Georgia Tech’s College of Engineering graduates more engineers than any other college in the United States.

May received his bachelor’s in electrical engineering from Georgia Tech in 1985 and his master’s and doctoral degrees in electrical engineering and computer science from UC Berkeley in 1988 and 1991, respectively. In 2010 he was named Berkeley’s outstanding electrical engineering alumnus.

His research specialty is computer-aided manufacturing of integrated circuits. He has written more than 200 technical publications, contributed to 15 books and holds a patent in the field. 

At Georgia Tech, May landed a $3-million grant from the National Science Foundation to create an undergraduate research program in engineering and science to help more underrepresented minority students pursue a graduate degree. Three-fourths of undergraduates in that program went on to pursue graduate degrees.

He also launched a program that helped 433 underrepresented minorities earn doctorates in science or engineering at Georgia Tech — the most in the nation. The efforts prompted President Obama to award May the Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics and Engineering Mentoring in 2015.

“In my classes and early in my career, it always concerned me how few people like me there were,” May said in a statement. “By that I don’t mean smart or determined or curious people. I mean African Americans, and people of color in general, and also women. That’s when I became interested in finding ways to ensure equal access to education and opportunity. We need to nurture talent, for the good of the individual and for the benefit of us all.”

“Star Trek,” Lego and Erector sets, comic books and science fiction sparked May’s early interest in the STEM fields, according to a UC statement. 

May is married to LeShelle R. May, a senior manager of software development at CNN. They have two daughters, Simone and Jordan.

teresa.watanabe@latimes.com

Twitter: @teresawatanabe

 


UPDATES:

5:20 p.m.: This article was updated throughout with comments about the choice of Gary May as chancellor.

This article was originally published at 12:20 p.m. 

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